Acknowledging the lingering devastation wrought by the hurricanes last year, Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, called the decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to extend disaster relief funding to houses of worship a mistake in a statement on Wednesday:
“Our hearts ache for communities in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, California and elsewhere as they continue to recover from the damage wrought by storms and fires and to rebuild the institutions, including houses of worship, that have historically provided comfort and shelter in other turbulent times.
“However, even under these painful circumstances and motivated by compassion, the distribution of public funds through FEMA to any or all tax-exempt religious institutions is a mistake that trades a short-term benefit for long-term problems.
“Federal subsidies, including FEMA funds for recovery, come with federal demands. Religious institutions are notably exempt not just from taxation but from the regulation of their affairs by the government. Interfaith Alliance has long championed the mutual responsibility that government and religion have – constitutionally – to stay out of each other’s affairs.
“Erasing the line between religion and government has long been the goal of the Religious Right. Now, even mainstream faith communities find themselves confused as they confront practical needs and long-held principles.
“We strongly urge individual citizens to contribute to recovery and restoration efforts in their own faith communities and in the neighborhoods that make up their local communities. With equal vigor, we urge FEMA to rescind this administrative ruling to avoid the inevitable pain for institutions and their members that will result from legal challenges that will delay and, we hope, overturn this decision.
“And we urge Congress to ensure that new tax laws enable private contributors to enjoy the encouragements that have girded the historic generosity of American taxpayers.”
Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.